A Push to Grow Academically

Excellence inside and out drives Honors College students and faculty

By Max Esterhuizen, M.S. ’15

Aubree Marshall

For senior Aubree Marshall of Fancy Gap, Virginia, joining the Honors College opened the doors to realizing her full potential. Through experiences in the college, she gained countless undergraduate research opportunities that altered her academic trajectory.

That kind of impact on a student’s life is a primary goal for the Honors College, said Director Niels Christensen, Ph.D.

“It’s clear that Honors students will push themselves academically, but we want to give them that extra motivation outside the classroom,” he said. “We know they are capable of doing things they don’t think are possible when the first step foot on campus. To do that, we build relationships among the students themselves and between students and faculty. We want students to feel like they are part of a larger community of scholars, who challenge them, but also cheer them along their path.”

As scholars in the Honors College, students foster a community of distinction, have ample opportunities for academic rigor and receive recognition for their academic excellence.

One of the requirements of graduating as a Highlander Honors Scholar is completing a capstone project under the supervision of a faculty mentor. The content of the project is driven by the student and can vary from research presented at a conference to choreography performed in front of an audience. The result is a project that reflects each individual student’s interest, one that represents the culmination of their scholarly work, including what might not fit into a standard disciplinary lens.

For Marshall, an anthropological sciences and biology double major, her project involved the study of human health and travel, which she studied in the Peruvian rainforest, as part of the Radford Amazonian Research Expedition (RARE) Program and in the Patagonia region of Chile with the Department of Geology.

“The Honors College provided me the Honors Opportunity Grant for my first time when I traveled to Peru and that boosted me into my research career,” Marshall said. “Every time that I went to Dr. [Niels] Christensen, Dr. [Jason] Davis, or Mary [Hagan] with new ideas on where to do my research or how to get to my end goal, they were always so supportive, which was super helpful with my confidence as a student researcher.

“I am now working on my graduate school applications, so I can continue to do research,” Marshall continued. “If it wasn’t for Honors, I don’t think I would have realized how much I love research, and I am on a totally different academic track with Honors.”

Another benefit of the Honors College is smaller class sizes, increasing meaningful interactions between student and professor.


As members of the Honors College, students attend unique events, such as guest presentations and cultural lunches, boosting their exposure to the world from their campus home.

“The Honors faculty and staff aid in finding these opportunities or making your own,” said junior Matthew Shuma of Chesapeake, Virginia. “The Honors faculty have also put me in touch with other passionate professors to get me involved in research.”

Perhaps, the most profound impact that the Honors College has on a student is exposure to dedicated students in majors across the University. In other words, the Honors College is a community unto itself — a community dedicated to academic excellence and offering a unique way to experience the world.

To aid the community building, freshmen in the Honors College live in Floyd Hall, a dedicated community of scholars with a variety of backgrounds and interests. As part of that community, students are able to stretch themselves through tailored experiences in the Honors living-learning community.

“Honors College is the thing about college that I will remember the most,” Marshall said. “This has allowed me to make tons of friends over the years, plus I’ve had the chance to be involved in events that I would have never known about.”

Academic excellence, a pillar of Radford University’s strategic plan, is a significant component of the Honors College, where students are able to participate in unique academic experiences, study abroad opportunities and specialized research opportunities to create a unique experience as a Highlander.

An outcome of the pursuit of academic excellence and achievement is a retention rate of more than 90% for Honors students.

“We’re giving them a community that makes them excited to return to campus,” Christensen said. “The students push themselves academically. Our community pushes them to also grow as people through their connections with other students, faculty, staff and alumni. We hope that we can find the perfect level of challenge and support that’s appropriate for each student. We’re lucky to work with students expressing such above-and-beyond passion for their academic pursuits.”

Dec 10, 2019
Max Esterhuizen, M.S. ’15